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How to Winterize Your Water Supply Intake Pipe

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Winters can be tough.

If you have a house that you leave vacant all winter, you should hire a professional to drain your water system and winterize it. You don't want your water pipes to freeze.

However, if you live in the mid-Atlantic states in a house with a basement or enclosed crawl space and use the house during the winter, you should read the following:

Abnormally low outside temperatures near zero or subzero degrees F for extended periods of time put some water intake pipes at risk. Suppose you were home during a time like this and turned on a water faucet, and there was no water. Then you go down to the basement or enclosed crawl space and look for the water cut-off valve. It appears to be turned on, so why isn't there water in your house? You try to turn the valve off and on, but it is frozen. Your water supply intake valve has frozen.

After an hour or two of applying warm air to the valve using electric heater fans, you try again to turn the valve, and it finally moves. You turn on the water faucet in the kitchen, and, voila, your water is back.

Why did your water supply freeze up? Don't building codes require burying outside water pipes below the frost line?

How to Unfreeze Your Water Intake

You need to apply safe heat to the frozen valve and pipe. First, turn a water faucet partially on so that as the frozen water begins to melt, running water in the pipe will hasten the melt. Keep checking for leaks.

When applying heat, do not use flames of any kind. Use electric heaters that blow hot air on the pipe. After applying heat to the valve and pipe for a while, you try again to turn the valve, and it finally moves. Water is running from your faucet, and, voila, your water is back. Fortunately, there was no water damage. If you happen to find a leak, call a licensed plumber right away.

The Freezing Depth or Frost Line

The frost line is the soil depth where water in the soil freezes. It can vary from as deep as eight feet in extremely cold parts of the country to as little as near zero feet in very warm areas. Building codes typically require that outside pipes be buried at least six inches below the frost line.

But the frost line is based on averages, and when extremely cold temperatures last for long periods, the actual freezing depth could be deeper than the average. And that may cause your water intake pipe and valve to freeze.

Also, soil, moisture, and unique local and other conditions may affect the exact freeze depth at your house.

Two Simple Steps to Winterize Your Water Intake Pipe

1. Install a pipe heating cable.

A typical cable consists of a length of heating cable controlled by a thermostat connected to a short power cord with a grounded plug for a wall outlet. Place the thermostat in contact with the water intake valve and secure it in place with electrical tape.

Run the heating cable along the water pipe into the house from the valve and tape it in place.

For extra protection, add a foam pipe insulator tube onto the water pipe.

The VEVOR pipe heating cable has a thermostat that kicks on automatically at 43 degrees F. The cable quickly heats up and transfers heat to your pipe. It turns the heat off at 55 degrees F. Be sure to plug the cord into a wall outlet at the onset of winter.

2. Slowly turn a water faucet on and leave a tiny stream of running water.

If you expect a stretch of extremely low temperature, turn on a water faucet so that a tiny stream of water is running. This moves water very slowly through your water intake pipe. Slowly moving water is less apt to freeze than standing water in the pipe.

Be sure to turn the faucet off when the outside temperature warms up.

Winterize Before the Big Freeze

As winter approaches, now is the time to winterize your water intake valve and pipe by following the above steps.

Be prepared.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.